The Lady Vols basketball team has placed lofty standards for success upon itself. For a program that has the highest winning percentage in Division I women's basketball, a championship is the expectation year in and year out.
Less than a week into practice for the 2013-14 season, there's no surprise that second-year head coach Holly Warlick and her preseason No. 3-ranked team is already talking about long-term goals.
"Our goals are to play in Nashville, and it's something we've talked about since losing our last game," Warlick said. "We speak about getting better every day. They are all in and we haven't had any resistance. They are thrilled to get on the practice floor and get going."
For senior guard Meighan Simmons and her teammates, the excitement to get back out on the court is driven by the "Grind for 9" theme, which the team adopted this summer to symbolize their pursuit of a ninth national title.
"I wake up every morning and think about it," Simmons said. "It's the first thing I think about when coming into a workout. This is the last go-around for me so I have to grind it out.
"I don't want to leave here without a championship. It's all about focusing on the task at hand and helping the team win its ninth championship."
While the coaching staff is once again stressing the defensive side of the ball and running an up-tempo offense, a higher sense of urgency can be felt than in previous seasons.
"The energy has been so much higher this year," Simmons said. "The theme 'Grind for 9' gives us more energy and gets our adrenaline going in the middle of practice."
Although the Lady Vols have high expectations, the squad is still taking time for the smaller aspects of the game as they head into their first exhibition matchup against Carson-Newman on Nov. 4.
"I think the tempo is going to be a lot different and the coaches are going to do more teaching so we make sure to pay attention to the little things," Simmons said. "It's the little things that are going to get us to win a ninth national championship."
With all but two players returning from last season, the team believes they are even better when considering the talent of their two incoming freshman.
"Adding Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds has been a great addition," Warlick said. "I think our team sees we have people in key spots and that we've gotten better since last year. They all have a lot of confidence and are displaying it on the court."
There will be plenty of time to work the true freshmen into the system and to help them understand what is expected of them from their teammates and coaches. The team is allowed to hold 30 practices in the next 40 days before their first away game against MTSU on Nov. 8.
"I think we are really excited," junior forward Cierra Burdick said. "This is the most excited I've been since being here. We have a great chance of winning the entire thing. We have an awesome opportunity to go to Nashville and compete in the Final Four and bring it home to Knoxville."